Sky Captain & The World Of Tomorrow Movie Review
An imaginative spectacular of retro-futuristic adventure and mind-boggling special effects, "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" so perfectly captures the silly sci-fi wonder of the 1930s serials which inspired it that watching this matinee marvel doesn't arouse a modern reaction of "wow!" or "cool!" -- it garners a genuine, awe-struck "golly!"
The film is cinematically breathtaking, with sepia-toned semi-color photography, swooping Orson-Wellesian dutch angles, top-secret floating air fortresses and pre-War propellered fighter planes battling giant robots in the skyscraper canyons of Depression-era Manhattan. But what's all the more amazing is that, except for the actors and a few props, nothing on the screen -- not the city sidewalks, not the interiors of cars the actors drive, not even the carpets in the lush, film-noir-shaded interior sets -- is real.
Beginning in college, first-time writer-director Kerry Conran spent 10 years on his Macintosh computer creating a six-minute sample of the opening sequence, in which a dirigible docks with the top of the Empire State building just as the riveted-steel six-story robots attack. When Hollywood producer Jon Avnet saw this clip, he raised $70 million and gave Conran free rein to hire himself a titular hero, played by a swashbuckling Jude Law, to come to the rescue and complete the director's groundbreaking dream -- a live-action movie set in an entirely CGI world.
The effects blend seamlessly with Conran's talented cast, including Law as the dashing defender-of-good freelance flying ace Sky Captain, Gwyneth Paltrow as go-get-'em girl reporter Polly Perkins, Angelina Jolie as derring-do British aviatrix Franky Cook and Giovanni Ribisi as Sky Captain's gum-popping gadget-maker Dex. They all help make the world of "Sky Captain" entirely believable even though they shot every scene on an empty blue-screen soundstage.
But you'd never know it to look at the film, which takes them from New York to Sky Captain's air-ship-hanger headquarters, to snow caves in Nepal, to the underwater entrance of a secret island where a rocket-ship-building "Wizard of Oz"-like megalomaniac (played, in another computer-effects coup, by the late Laurence Olivier) is bent on a rather original form of world destruction.
Like the low-budget serials that informed its story and style, "Sky Captain" has its imperfections, not the least of which is the bickering banter between its ex-lover hero and heroine. The dialogue has plenty of 1930s snap -- it's just delivered with more bitterness than charm by Law and Paltrow, who otherwise wholly inhabit their cleverly archetypical characters.
Another distraction (at first, anyway) is adjusting to the film's soft-focus look, which is meant to pay surrealistic homage to "Metropolis," "Flash Gordon," "King Kong," Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons (one was the inspiration for the giant robots) and other classics that influenced Conran (there's even a nod to "Star Wars"). A few minor gaffes of common sense in the plot are negligibly bothersome as well (if the villain's secret island has only just been discovered, how does Jolie know it has an undersea inlet?), and the finale is so over-the-top that it's hard to take our heroes' peril seriously.
But none of this diminishes the brilliantly derivative way "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" re-captures the thrilling, anything's-possible air of the genre it emulates. It is to early science fiction movies what "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was to the period's pith-helmet jungle adventures.